Most years when I was young my family drove out to the desert near our home in Arizona to pick ripe prickly pear fruit to turn into jelly. It’s not an easy process. Each cactus is covered with many spines, threatening anyone who approaches too close. Each fruit also has spines on it so we pulled them off with tongs and dropped them in buckets. Usually within an hour we would have enough fruit for a large batch of jelly. One year when I was about 14, as we picked fruit my sister called saying, “There’s a rattlesnake over there under the cactus!” I looked, asking “Where?” She stood by me, pointing right to it and said, “Right there under that cactus [about 10 feet away].” I looked but did not see the snake. I looked again in the same location and finally it became clear. The snake blended in perfectly with the speckled ground, only becoming visible with careful inspection. What first appeared to be dirt, rock, and shadow was a venomous serpent, dangerous if approached but not threatening at a distance. We decided to not pick fruit from that cactus.
Sin can be like the snake. It is hard to recognize sometimes, especially for those who are inexperienced or who do not look carefully. Temptation and sin, like venomous snakes, are increasingly dangerous when approached. Once we recognize sin, it’s best to leave it alone and go elsewhere. Do not try to see how close you can get because you will be bitten. The biting sting of sin burns all of us; we all fall short. All we are asked to do in return is look to God and live; looking to God involves the covenant process of repentance. When we sin we must exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. Sin brings suffering. Repentance is a process to heal suffering. It involves recognition, regret, confession, and restitution.
The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s suffering was essential so we could overcome sin and death. Without His suffering, we cannot be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer at all, it is difficult to learn the impact of our sins and in turn experience the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve learned to understand the bitter so they could appreciate the sweet. Through repentance we can turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find the soul soothing Balm in Gilead.
A story of the Savior teaches the healing process of repentance.
“And again [Jesus] entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5; emphasis added).
Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near or even have been the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (in other words – paralysis – the man might have had seizures as well) on a stretcher to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus stood or sat while preaching. The men were so desperate for healing, they destroyed a roof to reach the Savior.
These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments often involve chemotherapy, a drastic process attacking cancer cells but also bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system. Killing cancer cells requires broad destruction. Epilepsy, when severe, sometimes requires cutting out parts of the brain causing the seizures. To heal, drastic actions and destruction can be required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered healing – not just the physical that was sought but also spiritual.
Healing might hurt us abominably but such pains are necessary. To heal us, the Savior hurt abominably. He suffered so He might succor us. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance.
Repentance through faith in Christ brings about redemption by Christ. Jesus Christ purchases (redeems) our sins from us through His Atonement. Each bitter drink, each precious drop, redeems so we can overcome sin. Alma, the great Book of Mormon prophet, shared his experience in overcoming his sins through the Redeemer:
“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities…I saw that I had rebelled against my God…And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:13,16-20).
The Lord will forgive us as we repent. Light and joy from Christ replaced darkness and sorrow. Alma did terrible things but he repented and the Redeemer purchased Alma’s sins from him.
Elder Holland said, “Whoever you are and whatever you have done, you can be forgiven. Every one of you…can leave behind any transgression with which you may struggle. It is the miracle of forgiveness; it is the miracle of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Holland, Oct. 2011 General Conference). I testify this is true. I’ve been blessed with the miracle of forgiveness in my life; I’ve seen this miracle work wonders in the lives of others. One of Satan’s most insidious lies is that we are not good enough to repent; that we could never be forgiven. We are good enough and we can be forgiven. The miracle of forgiveness is a manifestation of Christ’s mercy.
In what is one of the most moving descriptions of the Lord’s mercy through redemption, the prophet Micah described the Lord’s feelings for the House of Israel – for all of us. Micah expressed his hope for redemption; he said: “Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness” (Micah 7:7-9; emphasis added). The Savior pleads our cause. He is our court-appointed defense; what better defense can we have than someone who truly, completely, and perfectly understands and loves us? Christ can bring us out of darkness into the light. Or as Alma said, “If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness. These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness” (Alma 41:6-7).
Have you ever been somewhere truly dark? Where the blackness is almost palpable? Where it’s so dark your brain wants something to look at so it starts creating hints of objects around you? As a teenager my family and I went to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. On one guided tour we sat in a room deep underground and turned off all lights. There was no light anywhere. We couldn’t see anything and anything we thought we saw was imagined. After 30 seconds, we started turning our lights back on. For those unnerved by the deepest darkness, the lights brought great relief. Can you imagine a similar relief that comes by the redemptive power of Christ? He pulls us from an endless night of darkness into a radiant new life.
The Savior’s life was filled with many acts of mercy. He gave sight to the blind; He cured all manner of infirmities; He cast out devils; He took time to bless children when He was tired and hungry; He brought the dead to life. However, His greatest act of mercy was the Atonement. “And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.” (2 Ne. 9:21). This single act made it possible for all to receive forgiveness of sins as they repent and have faith in the Lord. The way is prepared. “Come…every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). The Savior’s mercy, His forgiveness, is offered freely to us as we repent. Redemption comes as we repent but it is important to remember that this life is the time to prepare to meet God. We need to repent and be redeemed in this life or risk eternal separation from God.
Redemption covers more than just sins; it is available for all ills – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional.
A few years ago I stood in a hospital room watching a geriatrician examine a silver haired older woman. This lovely woman was a widow, had dementia, and was cared for by a daughter; the woman was frustrated by a world she struggled to understand and the daughter was frustrated by the physical and emotional drain of caregiving. We could see the anxiety and strain both were under. That day we had a lighter patient load than normal so we had more time to spend with this woman. She kept asking if the physician or one of us in the room would sing a specific song (none of us knew it – it was a particular Christmas song we hadn’t heard of). As he examined her, the geriatrician asked if she knew the lyrics or tune. The woman, memory weakened by a terrible disease, couldn’t say or sing any of the song for us so no song was sung. At the end of the visit the physician wanted to fulfill her request for a song – to help her be calm and happy; to let her know he cared for her. He asked what song she wanted. This time she asked if he could sing Amazing Grace. The physician reached out, gently held her hand, looked her in the eyes as he sat before her, and sang to her.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
This woman, lost in a labyrinth of disease, for a moment was found. That day my blind eyes opened to the healing power of a kind touch and simple song from a good Samaritan. I felt heaven draw near. I saw what it might be like to sit before the Savior and receive His redemptive, loving grasp as He sings us a song of redeeming love.
At some point death comes to all. It might be early or late but it will come. We are comforted by the knowledge that death is not the end. All who die will rise again, resurrected through the power of God. Death brings great sorrow but we can find solace in our knowledge of the Plan of Happiness. We were there in the pre-earth life when our Father presented His plan for us. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a mortal body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity, even though we knew there would be hard things and many sorrows, including death. We can go on knowing Christ descended below all in order to lift us all. When we know the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.
The sweetness we taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning to us. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Death is not an end; death is a new beginning – a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died so we will all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.
Jacob, brother of Nephi, taught of the resurrection: “Our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God…. For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection….” (2 Nephi 9:4,6). The Book of Mormon prophet Samuel taught too of the resurrection: “For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.” (Helaman 14:15-17).
The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. When those we love die, we can find comfort in the Savior. The poet wrote:
Death shall not destroy my comfort,
Christ shall guide me thro’ the gloom;
Down he’ll send some heav’nly convoy,
To escort my spirit home.
Jordan’s stream shall not o’erflow me,
While my Savior’s by my side;
Canaan, Canaan lies before me!
Soon I’ll cross the swelling tide.
See the happy spirits waiting,
On the banks beyond the stream!
Sweet responses still repeating,
“Jesus! Jesus!” is their theme.
Oh, hallelujah! How I Love my Savior,
Oh, hallelujah! That I Do.
Oh, Hallelujah! How I love my Savior!
Mourners, you may love him too.
The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to live again, to overcome that endless night of darkness of spiritual and physical death. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. The Savior’s sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father’s merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day.
May we find joy in repentance, redemption, and resurrection. May we all be a little more kind and loving today. May we find someone to lift up – help someone who is sad feel glad. May we recognize the supernal blessings we all are given from our Father and from the Savior; may we recognize then receive and not reject what has been given and then render up our thanks unto God for those blessings.